Why now is the time to rethink your brand’s loyalty strategy

Why now is the time to rethink your brand’s loyalty strategy
By Connie Sisco and Lauren Sutherland
Lauren Sutherland
Strategist, Customer Loyalty
Jun 23, 2021
4 MIN. READ
In the last year, as brands adapted to better meet their customers’ needs, so too did the consumer mindset evolve.

Think of your consumer habits before the pandemic. How many stores did you peruse on an errand-packed day? Did you plan ahead and order online, or wing it, hoping for the best when you arrived?

Now think of those same days today. Not surprisingly, a lot of those behaviors may look different. It's no secret the pandemic has turned customer experience (CX) on its head, as we've seen major shifts in the entire customer journey, end-to-end. We can no longer rely on old predictors like travel frequency or shopping methods as many habits have changed-some for good.

In the last year, as brands adapted to better meet their customers' needs, so too did the consumer mindset evolve. This resulted in not only a change in consumer behavior but also consumer expectations—from brand interactions and communications to loyalty program experiences. So how can you meet these new standards? Below we’ve laid out four key aspects to consider when rethinking your loyalty strategy in this pivotal brand moment.

1. Meet your customers’ changing expectations

In the fight for relevance, brands must strive to meet changing expectations now more than ever. Throughout the pandemic, many brands moved heavily toward digitalization by offering expanded online services, curbside pickup, tele-appointments, and more. Not only were brands forced to offer more digital experiences to continue doing business, but they also had to rely on digital as a primary means of emotional connection, as many face-to-face interactions that previously built emotional loyalty were not an option.

Consider how your customers responded to those changes in order to understand their shifting expectations. The digital push propelled us to an “anywhere, anytime” reality where physical location no longer limits your brand and loyalty experiences. We now have access to myriad convenience options that limit the number of face-to-face interactions, and many consumers expect to keep taking advantage of those digital options long after the pandemic’s exit.

2. Refresh and rethink your data approach

Customer behaviors have shifted significantly as well. From travel habits, seasonality, and in-store vs online ordering habits to preferences, payment methods, and even product affinity have all been affected. These shifts—coupled with the extinction of third-party cookies—create a prime opportunity for a fresh approach to your data strategy. The historical insights once gleaned from your highest-value-customers’ data (e.g., business travelers or top-tier loyalty program members) may no longer be as relevant.

In previous years, business travelers were consistently some of the highest-value loyalty members across the travel industry. While the business travel industry will gradually rebound, it will be different as telework has become the norm across workforces and the need to work from the office diminishes with the implementation of hybrid work models. Pre-pandemic customer data and predictive models are no longer sole predictors for accurately forecasting consumer behavior. Leveraging zero-party data to deepen customer relationships can create relevant, highly personalized experiences that foster long term advocacy and loyalty.

3. Personalize the customer journey

Our collective inboxes and smartphones are more inundated with emails and loyalty program communications than ever, and personalization is key to breaking through the noise. To maintain a strong, emotional connection with your customers, brands must prioritize these 1:1 experiences on every level. Breaking away from mass, untargeted, and unspecific messages by delivering experiences designed to meet the customer where they are on their customer journey is crucial. A highly optimized, channel-agnostic approach will help you deliver the right message at the right moment in their journey. By building engagement layers through highly personalized, omni-channel messaging, brands can push past consumer engagement and inspire active participation from the audiences they care about most.

4. Emphasize your shared values

Another major shift we’ve seen amongst consumers is an increase in cultural awareness and a desire to align with brands that hold the same shared values. According to our research, approximately 67% of consumers consider it at least somewhat important that brands align with their shared values, and another 69% of consumers consider it at least somewhat important that brands practice social responsibility. Consumers now crave authentic, transparent, and humanized communications from brands. They feel more connected with brands that align with their personal values and, in turn, are more likely to act as a brand advocate.

However, beware of “woke-washing,” or simply putting out social statements without taking action. Consumers want brands to use their resources to actually help the problems they are addressing, not simply make surface-level statements. This can happen in a multitude of ways, across a multitude of social issues. Leveraging zero and first-party data strategies, brands can authentically identify and align with the brand values that are a top priority among their customers, and incorporate them into their loyalty efforts.

Getting to know your customers (again) can help deliver personalized and thoughtful loyalty experiences

Ultimately, one of the most important things brands can do as we continue to emerge from the pandemic is listen to their customers and apply those learnings to their CX. Layering in these four tactics together will help to establish and deliver truly differentiated loyalty experiences that lead to reciprocal, two-way relationships between the brand and their customers.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the authors
  1. Connie Sisco, Senior Strategist, Customer Loyalty
  2. Lauren Sutherland, Strategist, Customer Loyalty

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